Team Unified Modern: A Tournament Report
On Saturday my friends and I travelled to Birmingham for the Manaleak Team Unified Modern Tournament, and oh man, I wish I had got the air conditioning in my car fixed. One sweaty journey later we arrived, checked our deck registration sheets, and compared our pre-tournament nerves.
For those who don’t know the format, Team Unified Modern uses Team Unified Constructed rules; teams of three players may have no overlapping cards between their decks, with the exception of basic lands. Only one of you can run Cavern of Souls, only one of you may put Kitchen Finks in your sideboard. You play individual matches against another team, and your team is victorious when two of you win their match. Importantly, you can confer with your teammates during games.
Last time I wrote about what Team Unified Modern involves, the sort of deck we might expect, and how we can prepare; now, I’m going to talk about what happened on the day and what I learned. The tournament was awesome, big shout out to the organisers Manaleak.com and judges for making it so! If you’re curious, you can find the top 4 decklists here, and I’ll talk about them a little towards the end of this article.
I played Elves – the Green Black beatdown version running Shaman of the Pack (or ”Elfball”), but splashed White for sideboard cards such as Eidolon of Rhetoric and Selfless Spirit. The main reasons for playing Elves were that a) not many of the cards overlap with other Modern decks, making deck construction relatively easy, and b) it’s pretty great against Death’s Shadow decks, the scariest in the format right now. My teammates Jamie Ball and Chris Stanley played G/R Eldrazi Tron and Jeskai Control respectively, and Chris took the centre seat.
Shared Fate – playing the tournament
That morning I said on Facebook that I check my deck more times before a Magic tournament than my passport before going to an airport. Oh, was this true today.
Before a solo event if you forget your cards, accidentally leave your copies of Death’s Shadow double-sleeved, or your hamster shreds your decklist for its bedding, that sucks. In a team event, that really sucks. Your mistakes affect not only your success, but that of your teammates.
And that’s before we even think about our plays; what if we accidentally sideboard in Celestial Purge against colourless Ezdrazi Tron? What if we forget that our opponent has enough cards in their graveyard to delve Gurmag Angler?
I found myself way more nervous before this tournament than any, ever – and I think it was because of fear or letting my friends down. Fortunately, my friends and I viewed our primary goal as having a laugh, and I knew that none of us would blame each other for misplays.
So, what happened?
The first match started, and I played against Eldrazi Tron. With no way (pre or post-sideboard) to kill their larger creatures, and the threat of All is Dust, Chalice of the Void and Ratchet Bomb, I’m pretty scared of this deck. I lost my second game when I committed my Elves to the board to threaten lethal, and had to hope that my opponent didn’t play a land followed by All is Dust. Needless to say, my Elves, and my chance of winning the match, did not survive. We lost as a team and were left slightly deflated, but buoyed due to how nice our opponents were.
Game 1: Opponent played turn 1 Stomping Ground. Oh my. Burn was a matchup that I had not tested against. I went down to a quarter of my life total terrifyingly fast, although I developed a decent party of Elves on board. My opponent had two copies of Eidolon of the Great Revel on the field, meaning that if I played any elf I would put myself to one life (darn it, should have played that Craterhoof Behemoth). Fortunately, Collected Company doesn’t care. I cast my second copy, trying to think of a way to win, hit Shaman of the Pack x 2, and drained my opponent out of life. I sideboarded in 2 copies of Eidolon of Not Dying to Bolt (Eidolon of Rhetoric), Fatal Push, two copies of Abrupt Decay and a Scavenging Ooze.
Game 2: Played Scavenging Ooze. Ooze got bolted. Sad Ooze. Sad Katie. :(
Game 3: My opponent got manascrewed, which was rubbish for fun interactive Magic. I attacked with tiny creatures to win the game.
Couldn’t help but feel a bit lucky, there. Jamie lost 0-2 to “Tezzerator”/Thopter Sword Combo, but Chris beat Mono-Blue Extra Turns.
I played against a Bant Spirits deck, which was new to me. Chris loves this deck, so I jokingly reminded him whose-team-he-is-on-damn-it. I won the first game, but my teammates won their matches 2-0 before I had finished game two (but I was dead in the air on the next turn).
We took our seats, and a judge called me and my opponent for a deck check. A few nervous minutes passed while we prayed that we hadn’t messed anything up (and joked about how the day was so uncharacteristically hot we wished somebody had cosplayed as Fan Bearer), and then we started our match safe in the knowledge that our decks were legal.
I proceeded to get completely, mercilessly wrecked by Affinity. Having no interaction in my main deck, my opponent cruised through for lethal damage in game one. I brought in the usual suspects for game two (Fracturing Gust, Reclamation Sage), and with only one land I elected not to play my second Llanowar Elves on turn two, for fear of Whipflare, instead casting Nettle Sentinel. I regretted this pretty hard when I top-decked Reclamation Sage, as I didn’t have the mana to cast it and blow up my opponent’s Cranial Plating.
Fortunately, my teammates carried me through. We were 3-1!
Death’s Shadow; a terrifying deck, but one that a) my Elves are equipped to deal with, going wide and swarming the board and b) my boyfriend also plays, meaning I’ve had a load of practice against it.
I won 2-0, although missed lethal hilariously in the second game by tunnel-visioning into a cool Shaman of the Pack play. Thankfully I had enough Elves to allow me to win anyway.
4-1 was better than we dared to expect, so we were pretty hyped. We realised that we were locked for top 8 if we intentionally drew, and our opponents had the same idea. We shook our opponents hands, thanked them for the nail-biting hypothetical games and went to buy juice.
The top 8
Never thought that we would make it this far. I was excited to battle it out, but knew that we had already exceeded our goals for the day and would go home happy whatever happened.
Jamie found himself in a Tron mirror, while Chris played against Death’s Shadow and I was matched against the Devoted Druid combo. I typically enjoy game one in this matchup; neither deck is interactive and it feels oddly indulgent to spew out everything onto the battlefield and see what happens. I won a game with the biggest, silliest board state that I had made all day, and lost a game to a combo that I could not disrupt.
Mid-way through my third game, my team won!
This is where the report ends. Just after we finished our match, there was a pretty hefty judge call at another table that required a long time to resolve. (Massive respect to the judges!). It was late, the weather outside made it feel like Chandra lit up a BBQ in a sauna, and the 12 of us top-4ers decided to arrange an even split.
I would have loved to play it out, but was very happy to go home and throw some cold water over myself (curse my car’s dodgy air conditioning).
All in all, an incredible day. Better than ever expected, and my first ever top 8, let alone top 4. So what insights do I have from it?
Shared Discovery – what did I learn?
Elves was a good plan
There was another Elves player in the top 4, Zak Pearson – we enthused about the deck when waiting for the top 4 photo to be taken. He was running a similar deck to me, Green Black beatdown focused on Shaman of the Pack as a win condition, and playing white for sideboard cards. The deck was a little different to mine – for example, it ran a maindeck Westvale Abbey which I had considered and love as an idea. Decklists show that his teammate was playing Cavern of Souls in Eldrazi Tron, which probably explains the absence of the card from Zak’s list.
Along the way, one of my opponents mentioned that they had seen very few boardwipes. My experiences reflect this – the only time that I recall all of my Elves making a B-line for the dead zone when my Tron opponent cast All is Dust*.
The top 4 decks had their share of Anger of the Gods and Supreme Verdict, but my Elves avoided them. Maybe I got lucky, maybe my deck was fast enough to race them, or maybe there were fewer than usual.
Death’s Shadow was represented, as expected. How much by, I’m not sure – that would be interesting to know. I know of four teams playing it: two of our opponents, our friends in Mishra’s Christmas tree, and another team who made top 4. There was only one Death’s Shadow list in the top 4, so it probably wasn’t that dominating.
Sensible card compromises paid off… or at least didn’t hurt
A few days before the tournament, Jamie and I realised we clashed on Cavern of Souls. We decided that Jamie should play them, because he needed to protect his creature spells against Ceremonious Rejection more than I needed to protect mine against counterspells, there just aren’t many that I care about that stop Elves. Instead, I played a bunch of fetch lands. This was also better against the Blood Moon that I so feared after losing horribly to Free Win Red in testing, because I could crack a fetch in response to a Blood Moon.
At the tournament, I never feared anyone countering my Elves, nor had them countered. Equally, I never came up against a deck likely to run Blood Moon. Hopefully the Cavern of Souls meant that Jamie could stick Eldrazi more safely, but my deck didn’t seem to suffer from the absence of them.
Seating position matters
We had speculated that the most experienced player would likely be in the middle, allowing a good position to help the others. Equally, we can imagine that the least experienced player would take the central role, as they can benefit from the assistance from both sides.
Although these approaches lead to people sitting in opposite places, they demonstrate that there is a logic to how we arrange our team, and the matches that we play will be influenced by the seating choices of each team.
Other things might come into it, like deck complexity. To us, it seemed like a good plan for anyone running a arithmetic-heavy deck to sit on the outside, as distraction may hinder their performance.
Maybe more experienced players are likely to have higher-tier decks. If most teams put their player with the most experience in the middle, we might see more high-tier decks in this position. I have no idea if this is true, but it could be interesting to find out if, for example, Death’s Shadow finds its way to the centre seat more frequently than the outside positions. At least two of the four Death’s Shadow players that I know of had the middle seat, which also seemed to be a popular position for control decks. My sample size is too small to draw conclusions, but I would love to know if certain decks were significantly more likely to appear in the middle seat. This could be used to our advantage if our centre-seat teammate plays a deck that is great against a specific high-tier deck.
Testing as teams paid off
We (Urza’s Bouncy Castle and Mishra’s Christmas Tree) tested as a group of six whenever possible. There was no deck that was played by both teams, and it turns out that between us we represented a decent chunk of the meta. I credit a lot of my wins to the practice I had against the five others.
The last thing that we did as a six was play a couple of practice matches with one team against the other (minus one person, so we had another friend step in to pilot his deck). This was about as great as testing could get; we got some experience of how it felt to talk to each other mid-game, and how much we felt we could utilise our teammates without distracting them too much.
Magic players embrace the puns
I am so proud of the community right now.
Personally I laughed pretty hard at “Karn Stop believing” – good work, guys.
Shared Trauma – the things that I did wrong
The misplays. Oh the misplays. Mostly for fun, partially for learning, I’ll share the silliest things that I did all day:
- Missing at least three Nettle Sentinel triggers. I mean, Exert is on trend right now, right?
- Wanting to bring in Selfless Spirit against everything. (“But but they might have a boardwipe!”) Back. In. The deckbox.
- Related to the previous point, bringing in Selfless Spirit against Eldrazi Tron and then remembering, as I drew my opening hand in game 2, that All is Dust says “sacrifice.” Keep cool. Poker face.
- Completely missing lethal because I wanted to make a swanky Shaman of the Pack play. Seriously. It was really, really obvious.
- Not knowing that the standings in top 8 determine who gets the choice of play or draw. This was hilarious. Maybe I missed an announcement, maybe it’s common knowledge but it was my first time in top 8, so I had no idea. My conversation with my opponent went something like this:
- Me: “Shall we roll two D6?”
- Opponent (probably politely thinking I was just making a terrible deadpan joke): “Hahaha”
- Me: Err, odds or evens?
- Opponent: Um…
We somehow, eventually figured out that I had no idea what the process was.
Conclusion – Coalition Victory!
The tournament provided one of my favourite days of Magic, ever. The atmosphere was great, my opponents were fun, I had some interesting games of Magic and learned a lot. Team Modern is a sweet format, and I can’t wait until the next chance to play it!
If you are interested in this event, and events like it, then you might be interested in Manaleaks Ultimate Modern Weekender on the 2nd and 3rd of September. The Saturday is a Team Unified Modern Super Challenge, and the Sunday is a Modern SCG IQ! You can find the event here listing: THE ULTIMATE MODERN WEEKENDER at Manaleak.com Birmingham!
Thank you for reading, and hope to see you at a nearby event!